Celebrating the vibrancy of Africa's future and exploring the many pathways of collective action, Swarthmore College will host the Africa Is Rising symposium on February 9 and 10. The symposium is organized by Steven (Tuti) Mukum ’26, who presents the event as a profound testament to the innovation, cultural wealth, and resilience of Africa, as well as a reflection of his deep connection to his home continent.
Six influential figures will speak at the symposium, all of whom are connected through their significant contributions to Africa's development, human rights, education, and activism. Keynote speaker Cynthia Chigwenya, a political researcher, will set the tone for the two-day event. Chigwenya will be joined by an array of renowned speakers, such as Vanessa Tsehaye, Xavien Myles, Tshilidzi Marwala, and Kah Walla, and Patrick G. Awuah Jr. ’89 H’04, founder and president of Ashesi University, a private, not-for-profit institution in Ghana. They will share how their varied, yet deeply interconnected work can create solutions for humanitarian and technological issues across Africa.
The concept for the symposium is a blend of Mukum’s background in humanitarian work and co-creator Nana Asante ’26’s interests in technology and development in Africa. Asante is a computer science and economics major, born in Assin Manso, Ghana, and raised in Cookeville, Tenn. He serves as a Strategic Planning Representative, Student Budgeting Committee Chair, and Board Observer to the Swarthmore Board of Managers. Associate Professor of French Carina Yervasi served as the faculty advisor for organizing this event
Mukum is a global studies and economics major, and received the Eugene M. Lang Opportunity Scholarship for his project, Rising Above Water, which will enhance food and income security in Dangbo, Benin. He founded G3 For Peace, an organization that empowers displaced women from Cameroon’s sociopolitical crisis by growing food, communities, and hope. He is also a Davis Project for Peace grantee, youth panelist for SheDecides, and a 2023 Flywire Social Justice Scholar.
For Mukum, the issue of humanitarian crises in Africa is personal. When he was 11, Mukum was displaced from his home in Bamenda, Cameroon and forced to move to Yaoundé, a city about seven hours away, where they speak primarily French. His displacement was due to the Anglophone Crisis, an ongoing conflict that started in 2017 between armed groups and security forces in Cameroon. The conflict has displaced more than one million people, leaving them in need of aid.
After being displaced, Mukum said he felt hopeless. When he began catalyzing change in Cameroon, he fortified his hope and found purpose. In collaboration with peers from high school, he set up “Let’s Help Cameroon,” and they began visiting orphanages and helping children cope with displacement and language barriers. Mukum also worked with Hope and Rehabilitation Organization (HARO), which assists internally displaced persons (IDPs), and Open Dreams, which supports high-achieving, low-income students in Cameroon to make their dreams come true. Mukum lights up while explaining the work he’s done to spread hope and build community among people experiencing displacement. Looking forward to the symposium, Mukum continues to share his gift of hope with others.
"I wasn't interested in politics or international relations before being displaced. After being displaced, I was asking, 'Why aren't people doing something about it?' I felt like the world was disconnected. After doing research and meeting friends at Swarthmore who also had been displaced in Eritrea, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, because of war, environmental issues, etc., I realized the challenges we are facing are so interconnected.
“The symposium is for us to reflect on how these challenges in different countries are related to the continent and how we can solve them together,” he adds. “The solutions we are looking for should be able to be replicated across the continent. These issues are faced in almost every country in Africa, so there must be a solution that can span different contexts. This symposium is to start the conversation in Swarthmore and for students to think about this."
For Mukum, seeing the symposium come together has been satisfying, yet surreal. It’s his first time organizing an event, which seemingly didn’t deter him at all. He wanted to go big for the symposium, and he delivered — arranging for six African speakers to fly in from Africa, Asia, and Europe. One of the speakers, Kah Walla, was a household name in Mukum’s family, and he enjoyed being able to connect with her. Walla is a Cameroonian politician, and Mukum reflected on watching her on television with his mother, who is “such a fan.” Mukum admires Walla for paving the way: She is a pan-Africanist, and has been celebrated as one of the most influential women in Africa.
Awuah, who says his work at Ashesi University in Ghana is greatly helped by the experiences and opportunities he had at Swarthmore, encourages Swarthmore students, as they go through the College and leave to navigate their careers, to approach life as a journey.
“Wherever you go, you are going to learn something, you are going to meet new people, you are going to build networks. Eventually, if you engage directly back in Africa, which I hope you do, you can bring all of that with you. You can bring all of that network that you have built here and all the new ways of seeing, the new perspectives that you’ve encountered. Bring those because that will help you in your career and help you in making an impact on the lives of others,” says Awuah.
The symposium's agenda, rich with discussions, workshops, and interactive sessions, is designed to ignite conversations around Africa's pressing issues and celebrate its strides towards a brighter future. Through this event, Mukum aspires to foster a greater campuswide, if not global, dialogue on the significance of Africa in narratives about humanitarian crises, technology, and progress. The symposium represents a meaningful addition to Swarthmore’s history of engaging with critical global challenges.
The symposium is sponsored by the William J. Cooper Foundation, Swarthmore College President's Office, Black Cultural Center, Black Studies Program, Department of Economics, French and Francophone Studies, Global Engagement Office, Global Studies Program, and Department of History.